The Rotation: Making a more compelling MLB draft

Mike Stobe

The draft is less than a month away, so now's the time to wonder if it could be improved upon.

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The Rotation #4: The Mlb draft

by Steven Goldman

The Rotation is a weekly feature here at SB Nation MLB in which we put a question to our vast network of baseball scribes and bring you the answers. With less than a month to go until the annual June draft, we ask: What would you do to make the MLB Draft more compelling?

How would you make the draft more compelling?

And If Not Radio City, Maybe Vegas

"I'm sure this page is full of smart, talented writers with clever ideas about how to make the MLB draft more interesting. I am not one of them. All I want is a cool place to boo, and major league baseball does not give me even that. They want me to go to Secaucus.

For those who haven't spent much time on New Jersey Transit trains, it's very easy to get to Secaucus, but Secaucus is not a place one actually goes (unless one wishes to see animatronic dinosaurs in the wild, which would be understandable). One simply stops there for a few minutes to switch trains so that one can get to an actual destination. When the Pennsylvania Railroad knocked down the architectural wonder that was old Penn Station, the threw the rubble in Secaucus, de-beautifying both areas.

Compare this to the NFL draft, to which I go every year. I drink a few beers, put on my Tampa Bay gear, and rancorously boo all other teams. The negativity wouldn't be much fun except that everybody else does so as well (even Jets and Giants fans are a minority, and they get it as strongly as the rest of us), and everything takes place within the grand confines of Radio City Music Hall. Do I know much about the players being drafted? No, but the great red expanse of Radio City makes for a unique and special night.

So baseball, get me a proper venue to poorly represent humanity in, and I'll do it." -- Ian Malinowski, D Rays Bay

It Can’t Be Done

"I'd like to see MLB allow you to trade draft picks, and I'd like to see MLB eliminate the silly "competitive balance" picks and the caps on what you can spend in the draft. But none of that is to make the MLB draft more compelling. It would be to make the MLB more sensible.

Really, I'm not interested in making the draft more compelling. The things that MLB has done to try to market the MLB draft and make it more "viewer-friendly" haven't done much for me. Spreading the draft over multiple days is unnecessary. Inserting time between each first round pick so that television can do pointless interviews with draftees or offer analysis from people who are, in many cases, less familiar with these players than I am simply causes the draft to drag.

Things are an improvement from back when I first was following baseball, when MLB tried to keep anyone from knowing what rounds players were picked in so that players would have less information to use to try to extract a bigger signing bonus. But MLB's attempt to try to make the draft into a huge event, like the NFL or NBA draft, is counterproductive, I think." -- Adam J. Morris, Lone Star Ball

Amateur Spotlight

"The simple fact of the matter is that all drafts are boring. The event itself consists of a bunch of men calling out a bunch of names. However, the NBA and the NFL have tricked people into believing their drafts are exciting chiefly because the fans care about the players; they care about them because these guys are expected to make an immediate impact and because a sizeable population of fans followed their college careers. The players mean something to them.

How do we make baseball fans care about amateurs? It's an uphill battle. Very, very few of these guys can be expected to contribute within a year, so MLB should focus on increasing the exposure of amateur baseball. It would be nice to see more college games on national television. Unfortunately, the NCAA does not appear motivated to give baseball any thought (check out how few scholarships baseball players are provided compared to other sports), but maybe MLB could force its hand. High school players would be tougher to highlight, but a great place to start would be increased coverage of the various showcases. It really comes down to simple exposure by showing them that the players are the attraction." -- Alex Nelson, Amazin' Avenue

Trades!

"The MLB Draft will never be as compelling as the NFL Draft or even the NBA one. You know why: Players just don't get drafted and contribute immediately. Luke Joekel will do that this season in the NFL, as will most of the football first-rounders. Baseball will be lucky to have a player make an impact in the majors by 2014.

Still, there's a big way MLB could make the draft more compelling and that's allow draft day trades. Think about it: If the Astros pass on Mark Appel with the top pick this year, how many teams would try to trade up to get him? How many picks would a team like the Royals give up to add that ace pitcher they so desperately desire? Seeing a player fall and wondering if your team might jump up and draft them makes those hours eminently more watchable. Plus, with the draft slotting situation, you wouldn't have players who refused to play for a certain team. I mean, they might, but there's less financial incentive and there's not as much leverage as there might have been. It's not a great fix, but it would spice things up on draft night." -- David Coleman, The Crawfish Boxes

Draft-watchers: Insane?

"I am probably the worst person to answer this question. I find all drafts to be mind-numbingly awful. Some people have told me the NFL draft is riveting TV. I question their sanity. But the reason turning a draft into entertainment works for the NFL and NBA is that viewers are already familiar with many of the players being drafted due to the popularity of those college athletics. It's just never going to be that way for baseball.

That said, two suggestions to make the MLB draft better are to allow teams to make trades and to require all international free agents be drafted rather than having a large chunk of the world's talent pool left out of the draft entirely. Although I still don't think it would ever be must-see TV for me, at least you increase the drama a little bit by introducing the possibility of trades. (Let's face it, tough, MLB teams probably aren't going to use that option often.) As for bringing all players into the draft, it just feels a bit silly to say a small portion of the baseball-playing world have no choice in what team they play for, while others are considered free agents right from the start. I just do not like that one bit. But let's face it, that really doesn't change watchability either.

The MLB draft is doomed." -- Kurt Mensching, Bless You Boys

Another Vote for Trades

"You know, the draft already has been made somewhat more compelling over the last decade; there is much more coverage of amateur baseball, mock drafts, and it's now a prime time show on MLB Network, though I admit it could use a less snooze-inducing host than Bud Selig. (Hey, how about Bob Costas announcing the picks?)

Here's what would generate interest: allow teams to trade picks. We have a taste of that now; the new competitive-balance picks can be swapped, but that's just a few selections and many don't even yet know about them.

Let all picks be traded. Can you imagine the talk in 2009 or 2010 if the Nats could have traded the rights to Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper? They probably wouldn't have, but just the idea of that would have filled discussion for weeks, if not months. Get it done, Bud Selig and Michael Weiner. MLB needs more swaps, not fewer." -- Al Yellon, Bleed Cubbie Blue

Skills Showcase

"Today's question is about the draft, so maybe it's a bit of a cheat to answer by talking about things that need to happen before the draft, but one of the key issues here is exposure of amateurs. The public just isn't as aware of amateur players in baseball. College baseball just doesn't get the attention that college football and basketball command, and since many ballplayers are drafted out of high school, even if you could find a way to raise awareness of the college game it wouldn't solve the whole problem.

Come All-Star game time, I'm always surprised by the interest generated by the home run derby -- batting practice is fun to watch if you happen to get to the ballpark early, but actually sitting in front of a TV for a couple of hours as players take batting practice? I'd rather spend the evening with the Watching Snakes Molt channel before doing that. Still, if people like that kind of thing, let's give them more of what they want as a way of educating the public about the kids: a pre-draft combine featuring skills contests in running, hitting, throwing, and pitching. In the old days, many a prospect was signed out of tryout camps that ran these kinds of drills, so the idea of a showcase isn't new, but perhaps its time has come again." -- Steven Goldman, SBNation.com/mlb

They’ve Gone About as Far as They Can Go

"This is rather hard for me to answer objectively, since to me the draft is already compelling. I've been following it obsessively since the early 1990s, so it is hard to put myself in the mindset of someone who isn't interested. That said, I think MLB has taken steps in the right direction by televising the proceedings. Progress has been slow, but honestly I think it is understandable. Even the very best draftees usually take a year or two in the minors before being ready to contribute, and most take a lot more time than that, three or four or even five or six years for high school guys. It isn't an NBA or NFL situation where a new draftee can step in and become a star immediately. The fact that the NCAA doesn't operate as a farm system for professional baseball is also a separation factor that makes MLB different than the other major sports. In short, I don't think there is any magic solution to make the MLB draft more compelling. Televising the first round and encouraging more coverage in baseball media has helped, but there is only so much they can do." -- John Sickels, Minor League Ball

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